A time of testing
"For 40 days after Jesus had suffered and died, he proved in many ways that he had been raised from death. He appeared to his apostles and spoke to them about God's kingdom." -Acts 1:3 (CEV)
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
Throughout the Bible, numbers are extremely important. For instance, the number "3" represents unity and accomplishment. Consider the Trinity-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-and the unity of the human race, traced to Noah's three sons.
The number "4" is related to the earth, in the four directions (north, south, east, west), the four seasons, the four types of spiritual soil (Matthew 13), and the four earthly ministries of Christ-in Matthew's gospel, Christ as king; in Mark, as servant; Luke, as the perfect man; and John, as the mighty God.
The number "7" represents God or divine perfection. The Book of Genesis tells us God rested on the seventh day. God's word "is as silver purified by fire seven times" (Psalm 12:6). The Bible speaks about seven miracles, in the Gospel of John, and the seven sayings of Jesus as he hung on the cross. John wrote to seven churches, saw seven golden candlesticks, and held a seven-sealed book (Revelation 1:1-16; 5:1).
Today I especially focus on another number used throughout the Bible. It is, perhaps, the first number most people would think of when asked to consider numbers in Scripture. That number is "40."
There can be no doubt the number "40" is used extensively in our holy book. You can probably recite some places where you know it appears in the Scriptures. That number is associated with times of testing and trial. It rained 40 days during the Great Flood (Genesis 7:4). Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai, and Jonah preached repentance in Nineveh for 40 days (Jonah 3:4). Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before being tempted (Matthew 4:2). And 40 days pass between the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
For me, "40" is a distinctive number that promises renewal, new life, and hope. It implies a way of cleansing the body, mind, and spirit-as in the 40 days of Lent, leading up to Easter.
Each time I have entered by faith into a time of testing, the experience has culminated for me in feeling closer to God and assured of God's will for my life and my spiritual journey.
That's why today I invite you... I ask each United Methodist within the Oklahoma Conference... to enter into a 40-day period of prayer and preparation leading up to our 2008 Annual Conference.
We will begin on April 15.
I call on each person to unite in this effort, as we prepare to take a leap of faith on Tuesday, May 27, at the Annual Conference.
On that evening, the delegates from churches across our state will gather at Tulsa's First United Methodist Church. Together, we will speak frankly about the future of the Church in Oklahoma and about how to best discern what God calls us to be and do as servants of Jesus Christ.
For the past two years, a Strategic Planning Team-composed of clergy and laity-has worked diligently to identify pertinent issues for Oklahoma Conference. Throughout that process, in which I have joined, the overriding question has been: What can we do to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people?
The team has discussed how to be more intentional and more effective, both in local churches and at the Conference level. The group identified core beliefs and opened the Scriptures for guidance to build the foundation of a Strategic Plan.
The formal plan will be presented at the Annual Conference.
We are intentional in identifying this as a movement, not as another program. And when the delegates gather with the team, at First church, together we will tackle questions such as:
What seeds must be sown for every church in our Conference to be productive and vital?
How can we make more disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation of the world?
What can each person do to make God's kingdom a reality in Oklahoma?
All are important questions. We dare not attempt to answer them without dedicating time to prayer and preparation prior to meeting together. We need God to direct us, empower us, and use us as God's instruments to bring positive, bold changes.
To help focus our minds and hearts prior to this significant meeting, the Strategic Planning Team asked clergyman David Burris to create a study guide, with reading, meditations, and prayers. This guide consists of 40 daily entries, for the time period of April 15-May 24. The Annual Conference opens May 25.
You will find the guide on the Internet, through the link on the Conference Web site, www.okumc.org.
You are encouraged to print this document and use it daily as you participate in this movement of the Spirit!
I restate: My request today is for all United Methodists. It is not exclusive to official delegates to our conference.
This 40-day guide is for everyone who desires to see our Church move to the next level in our spiritual pilgrimage. If we together read the Scriptures, respond to these questions, and engage in prayer, each soul will be fed-and, collectively, we will become the Church that God intends for us to be.
I am excited about the transformation that will occur in all of us as we prepare for the meeting in Tulsa! These 40 days of intentional preparation carry within them the seeds of renewal, new life, and hope. I urge you to resist the temptation to view this as just another religious exercise. Rather, use the time as an opportunity to grab hold of the life-giving vision God has given us.
Mark your calendars! Circle the date! Surely you can remember April 15! Do all you can to join me and countless others as we enter this time of prayer and preparation.